Conversational UI is changing the way we interact with our devices. Intelligent assistants, chatbots, and voice-controlled devices offer a new natural and intuitive human-machine interaction and open a whole new commercial world for us.
While conversational UI is a new field in computing and extremely dynamic, we can already find few success cases. Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple’s Siri are three worthwhile examples to learn from.
In this post, I will lay out what I believe to be the most important factors that made these devices so successful and how they will help you build your own killer conversational application.
Find the Direct Path to Initial Success
Voice control and conversational UI are actually not that new in our world. There were few attempts in the past, even the good old Nokia dumbphones had “voice control” features. However, most of these trials didn’t succeed. With zero patience for failure, after one or two unsuccessful tries, users just moved onto their next thing or fell back to the web or mobile apps.
So how do we find the direct path to success?
Help your users ask the right questions. This sounds pretty obvious, but it is actually crucial to the success of your conversational application. I learned that when I initially set up my Amazon Echo device at home. Using a complementary mobile app, I was directed to ask Alexa specific questions to which she had good answers to, such as: “Alexa, what is the time?” or “Alexa, what is the weather today?” I immediately received correct answers and therefore, wasn’t discouraged by a default response of “Sorry, I don’t have an answer to that question.”
Think Like a Search Engine, Not a Command Line
Conversational UI, command line and search engines have much in common. In all three, you need to provide the machine with a textual question and receive in return, a new textual answer. But think about the user experience of command line vs search engine. Whereas in a command line, you will receive an error message if you don’t use the exact correct format, search engines will always return a result, whether it’s the answer to your question or a suggestion for a different search.
Here is an example: to play music with Google home you could say: “Hey Google, please play Taylor Swift station from Pandora.” In this case, Google will reach out to Pandora and search for Taylor Swift’s songs to play. But you can also use a shorter version for your request, such as: “Hey Google, please play Taylor Swift songs.” In the second version, Google will decide on the enabled music service and search for a “Taylor Swift” station to play from. If you just say “Hey Google, please play music,” Google will search for your enabled music service and play one of your favorite stations. Acting like a search engine provides you and the user with much more options, as there are answers for all different cases regardless of the format and data the user supplies.
Offer Real Value; Provide Rich Functionality
Finding your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is crucial for the success of any application, but be aware of “burning” users by offering a limited product that does not provide value. Start with simpler types of features, such as content consumption. It can be listening to music or hearing the news, but also receiving information on your bank account balance, finding the price of an item or even checking your next meeting on your CRM. Next, develop your second types of features that would let you create content or modify settings. This can be, for example, creating a new music station, transferring money between accounts, or adding a new meeting to your CRM. By providing a full-service application, you make sure your user sticks to your conversational application and doesn’t fall back to your web or mobile app.
Build an Omnichannel Service
Remember, new devices are not replacing old devices — they are only added to the big basket of channels you must support. Users today want to get your services anywhere and anytime. To do that, you must provide a similar level of services on all the different channels. For instance, you might see a spike in requests during the early morning and late night coming from home devices, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. However, during the day, you will receive more activities from Facebook Messenger or your intelligent assistant. It’s a must that similar questions get similar answers on all the devices, no matter how your user is consuming your services.
Stay Up to Date With Trends
Conversational UI is an extremely new field in computing, and it is also extremely dynamic. As such, today’s top trends might grow huge, but they can also become obsolete and outdated in just a few months. This is the reason why you have to make sure that your applications are up-to-date with users’ expectations. Some examples include supporting new types of enabled conversions, adding new functionalities, relevant UI, and UX, and of course, supporting all latest trendy devices.
So When Should I Start?
Gartner predicts that by 2018, 30% of our interactions with technology will be through “conversations” with smart machines. The digital voice-activated devices market is expected to double itself every year by 2020.
If you want to make sure that you are taking a bite from this new cake, you better start now. Learn the market, find the value you can provide using voice-controlled and conversational capabilities, and start building your prototypes that will enable you to grow with the market.